Are You Open to the Culture of Dissent

New possibilities are created when you allow yourself and others around you to enjoy the freedom to express and explore.

Photo by Franciele da Silva/ Unsplash
Photo by Franciele da Silva/ Unsplash

With 15th August coming up, freedom means many things to many people. To me, freedom is a reminder to shed and discard with a vengeance the mental barriers that stop us from being our best selves. 

One such barrier is the need to conform, to be ‘yes men and women’ out of fear of confrontation and the unpleasantness that follows. This barrier has its roots in our childhood conditioning where many of us have memories of arguing, disagreeing, asking too many questions and quickly being labelled as disrespectful!

Unfortunately, this habit of not speaking our minds hurts us and more importantly our companies that now operate in a world that is more dynamic, complex and competitive than ever before. 

When you speak your mind, you feel a sense of freedom and peace of mind and ultimately this leads to happier and more engaged employees. If companies want an edge and a culture of creativity and innovation, diverse views must not only be respected but also encouraged and the first step to do that is to have tolerance for dissent.

Courage is the first of all virtues for without it we cannot act on any other virtue.


How do we inculcate this culture?

Here are a few methods I have found very effective 

1. Herd mentality: Typically meetings have herd mentality when the senior most team member presiding over the meeting is extremely vocal and has very strong views. So strong is this personality that ‘group think’ or veering the entire meeting to one view prevails. As Ed Catmull pointed in Creativity, Inc (the Pixar story), dissent is a pre-requisite to nurturing a creative culture and we kill this with group think. 

It is important for such senior members to speak less, instead ask more questions, to really listen to what others have to say so that there is candor and healthy dissent in the meetings. HR intervention (or at times board or promoter intervention) is needed to put this point across to the senior leader. 

2. Reward and recognition: A leader should walk the talk. By merely saying dissent is important, the culture won’t change. There has to be a deliberate publicised effort to reward ‘dissenters’ and the good ideas that emerge from them should be celebrated through promotions, public praise in meetings and awards. Contests such as ‘innovation challenge’ or ‘cost cutting challenge’ very successfully done by companies like Marico often help employees share dissent and openly suggest different ways of doing things. These are again deliberate and well-planned ways of getting employees to challenge the old ways of doing things in a nurturing and positive manner. 

3. Cross functional teams: Often having projects where teams from different departments have to work together towards a common goal is an important initiative. This builds trust and helps all members be more vocal about their concerns and thoughts. Departments typically work in silos and don’t make a conscious effort to form such cross functional teams to build a sense of comfort and camaraderie that is critical to encouraging dissent. 

4. Post mortem: Once a job is done, people simply move on. Having a culture of getting folks together to discuss ‘learnings’ and ‘areas of improvement’ forces people to think what they could have done differently and since this is the objective of the meeting, folks feel comfortable ‘fault finding’ as long as it is done through evidence/ data and in the organisations interest without any personal remarks or agenda. 

For years we have stopped listening to that inner voice, the inner critic for fear of being judged and punished. It’s time to free this inner voice and amplify it and speak with candour. 

As they say, ‘If there is more truth in the hallways than in a meeting, you know you have a problem’ .

If we can facilitate the reverse, where every meeting is full of candid, direct, fact-based thoughts full of dissent and diversity, imagine the unique culture we can build, the innovation that will be infused with such new ideas and the unimaginable heights an organisation can scale with a simple commitment to DISSENT. 

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